With thousands of books lining the walls inside the aging yellow brick building, the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds in some ways resembles a library. But the overcrowded tables, long lines at the service counters and constant hustle and bustle paint a different picture.

It is precisely that overcrowded atmosphere that Register Richard C. Seibert is looking to change with a proposed new facility on Obery Street. That plan, however, most likely won’t be getting off the ground anytime soon.

Seibert and other registry officials and local politicians are reeling from Gov. Paul Cellucci’s recent veto of a line item in the state’s 2001 budget that would have authorized the financing and construction plans for the new registry to move forward.

“Why the governor vetoed this is a complete mystery to me,” Seibert said. “It was an illogical veto.”

During a tour last week, Assistant Register Peter C. Bennett pointed out areas in almost every room where there are needs for improvement, starting at the 7 North Russell St. building’s front steps. “It’s ironic, being a government agency that is supposed to be promoting laws when we’re in direct violation of them,” Bennett said of the registry’s lack of handicapped accessibility.

“We’re being sued for non-ADA compliance,” Seibert said. “We have handicapped lawyers that use this building frequently, and handicapped members of the community that have to come in here too, and there are no elevators for them and no handicapped restrooms. It’s outrageous what they have to go through to use this facility.”

Inside the building, in a space that was converted from a courtroom, is a recording counter that can handle two or three customers at a time. Others in line wait behind a yellow line on the floor, next to an old-fashioned wood telephone booth. “If you come in here on the 30th of the month, we have you take a number so we don’t have everyone squished in that corner,” Bennett said. “We call up your number, just like a deli counter.”

Title examiners take up almost all available space at sit-down tables in the large records room as others stand at counters. Record books take up the wall space and then some, now overflowing into hallways and what used to be a private closing room. “Wherever we find wall space, and we won’t be violating any fire law, we use it,” Bennett said.

He pointed out the registry’s lone bookshelf with empty space for storing future records. Seibert said the registry adds about 1,000 new books each year.

“There’s the final bookshelf, then we’re going to have start moving tables out to make room or reduce the size of the older books,” a process which costs the registry $200,000 a year, he said.

In an effort not to disturb possible asbestos insulation in the ceilings and around pipes in the basement, bundles of wires for the registry’s phone system hang from the ceiling suspended by plastic ties. Other electrical cords hang almost haphazardly from the ceiling, dropping down to provide electricity for a computer or a fan.

Seibert said the air quality in the building, which has no central air conditioning, is poor for the storage of permanent documents. The fire protection systems in the building have been termed inadequate.

A 1994 space utilization survey by TBA Architects of Waltham found the registry’s headquarters “functionally obsolete for use as a Registry of Deeds and it would be neither cost effective not operationally desirable to renovate it for the registry’s continued use.”

The $4.6 million plan for the new registry, approved by the Plymouth Board of Selectmen, the Plymouth County Commissioners and the Plymouth County Advisory Board, called for the construction of a 26,000-square-foot facility. The current facility is about 14,000 square feet. In addition to larger office space for registry staff and a main record hall for title research, the new building would have several closing rooms and dedicated office space for title examiners.

The 20-year bond for the project would have been paid through a combination of new revenue from leasing title examiner offices that do not currently exist, using administrative fees collected at the registry, and using a portion of the deeds excise collected annually.

“We weren’t looking for state money,” Seibert said. “All we wanted to do was have [the state] grant authorization for spending which would be paid with county funds and get authorization to construct the building. We sold the plan to the county commissioners, board of selectmen, the Plymouth County Advisory Board and every single member of the Plymouth County legislative delegation.

“We were that close,” he continued. “All [Cellucci] had to do was let it go.”

Finding Alternatives
In vetoing the line item, Cellucci said he did not want to authorize long-term county financing at a time when he was looking to abolish county government altogether.

“To that, I respond that the Weld/Cellucci administration, and now the Cellucci/Swift administration, have been trying to abolish our county government since 1990, and it still hasn’t happened,” Seibert said. “Even if it was abolished, the sources of revenue would still be there from a local source. The state would assume the bond liability, but they would also assume a brand new facility that would still be paid for locally.

“The fact is you need a new registry, and whether it’s the county or the state, something has to be done about it.”

“Obviously I’m frustrated and disappointed,” said Rep. Thomas J. O’Brien, D-Kingston, about the veto. “There’s a lack of understanding about this issue in [Cellucci’s] administration,” said O’Brien, who sponsored the 1999 bill that would authorize finance and construction, H.4247. “That registry houses some of the most significant and historic documents in the commonwealth, and it has outlived its usefulness.

“This was a bipartisan issue. All of [the Plymouth County officials] understood the need. We all use that facility and we know it’s time for a new one,” he said. “The administration had plenty of time to make comment on this, and we heard nothing. We thought everything was fine. This was a surprise to all of us.”

Because the formal legislative session has ended, O’Brien said “it’s possible but highly unlikely” that the Legislature would convene to override the veto. He added that he will re-file the legislation during the next session.

In the meantime, Seibert said he will continue to look at ways of making the most use of the registry’s current space. Also, there are plans to open a registry satellite office later this year in Rockland for recordings to help alleviate pressure at the registry’s main recording counter. Another satellite office is already open in Brockton, though all documents still need to be stored at the Plymouth registry.

“Over the next few months I’ll leave no stone unturned looking for alternatives to a new building. Hopefully we’ll come up with a solution to our problems one way or another.”

Bennett said the Plymouth registry is one of the four busiest in the state – last year being its busiest year to date with more than 191,000 recordings. “Over the last 10 years, our activity has increased 20 percent,” he said. “While land itself is finite, its uses aren’t.”

“They left us holding the bag as to what to do with the wave of record books which are coming at a thousand a year, and The Pinehills sales haven’t even started yet,” said Seibert, referring to a planned 3,854-home development just under way in Plymouth.

Derailed Registry Proposal Poses Problem in Plymouth

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 5 min